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Larry Salander: Masterpiece Theater

March 26, 2009

artscandal1

Amid rampant speculation and $100 million price tags, the dramatic fall of one of the art market’s highest fliers.

“It’s much better than I thought it would be, and it still stinks,” Lawrence Salander says. “I don’t understand where it’s art.” He’s at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, scoffing at Damien Hirst’s tank-encased shark, on loan from hedge fund billionaire Steve Cohen and estimated to be worth more than $50 million. The proprietor of the palatial Salander-O’Reilly Galleries on the Upper East Side of Manhattan has the careless look of an artist when I meet him at the Met’s information desk on a March afternoon. Big, bald, and unshaven, he’s wearing an untucked T-shirt, hoodie, and paint-splattered corduroys. Three hours earlier he had failed to show. “I am so sorry,” he says, claiming never to have stood up anyone before. His wife and lawyer tracked him down and now here we are, two strangers meeting as if set up on a date — only, one of us is in trouble with the law.

This meeting, the first interview Salander has given since his gallery was closed by court order last October, was arranged after a month of talks with his lawyer, John Moscow, a gruff former Manhattan assistant district attorney who is representing the gallerist in a bankruptcy case brought on by an avalanche of accusations. Among them: that he sold artworks he had no right to sell; that he sold the same works to multiple people; and that he never handed over the proceeds. Moscow was wary of Salander being interviewed — there have been many salacious accounts of his client’s fall from the pinnacle of the art world to a Poughkeepsie courtroom — but I finally got a phone call. “Hey Kelly, it’s Larry Salander, wanna meet at the Met and walk around the galleries and see some art? I’ll be the bald guy who looks like a killer,” he said, hanging up just as I tried to ask for his phone number. Read more of my Men’s Vogue article here.

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